Because unexplained 'functional symptoms' are a major cause of referral to gastroenterologists, the efficiency of the medical history to lead to a positive diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, without resorting to the use of expensive tests, remains a key question. Whilst the six criteria of Manning et al are widely used, data on their validity in discriminating irritable bowel syndrome from healthy controls, irritable bowel syndrome from non-ulcer dyspepsia and especially among irritable bowel syndrome subgroups, are not available. To evaluate this, we studied 361 outpatients who completed a bowel disease questionnaire, which objectively measured Manning's (and other) criteria. The group included 82 patients with irritable bowel syndrome, 33 with non-ulcer dyspepsia, 101 with organic gastrointestinal disease, and 145 healthy controls. Diagnoses were based on a full and independent clinical evaluation, not on responses to the bowel disease questionnaire. Reliability was assessed by a test-retest procedure. All six of the individual Manning criteria were found to be reliable (median kappa = 0.79). Based on a logistic regression analysis of the discriminatory value of Manning's criteria, as the number of positive criteria increased, so did the predicted probability of irritable bowel syndrome. This predictive value was highest in younger patients and in females. The Manning criteria discriminated irritable bowel syndrome from organic gastrointestinal disease and from all non-irritable bowel syndrome gastrointestinal disease with a sensitivity of 58% and 42%, and a specificity of 74% and 85%, respectively. Stools that were often loose and watery provided an additional independent criterion for distinguishing irritable bowel syndrome from non-irritable bowel syndrome. Thus, symptoms can be used to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome positively, but Manning's criteria are not highly sensitive.
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